On my Erasmus year in Cergy on the outskirts of Paris, from about mid October until at least the end of March, the words “Que frio hace” usually preceded by “Joder” were uttered constantly by my Spanish friends (meaning more or less “Shit it‘s cold!”). I know from experience that Spain can reach temperatures below zero and it’s not just rain in Spain that falls mainly on the plains. Snow is certainly not unheard of, but nevertheless the Spanish are generally not used to harsh winters. After about mid-February +10°C can legitimately be considered cold. Even those of us from further North in Europe feel justified in complaining if we hit a cold spell with moderate snow for more than a week. Train services are delayed, flights stop running, schools close. On the other hand, here in Manitoba, at -20°C I often here people say what a beautiful day it is. So why is it that Canadians love Winter and can be seen playing in the snow at -30°C when most of us are curled up indoors at +5°C whinging about the cold?
Manitobans make the most of winter in all kinds of ways and have developed some pretty good methods at dealing with the cold. I personally think that one of the best methods is drinking lots of hot chocolate and I’ve noticed that some of them round here like to add a bit of a kick to their favourite hot beverages. On a purely practical note Canadian living is designed for the cold. When I was in school I remember learning about harsh environments in a Geography class. I read that in very cold climates such as Canada people plugged their cars in at night. I must admit to still being slightly fascinated by this when I see vehicles parked outside of the school plugged into outdoor sockets on the wall for this reason. Many cars are even fitted with an automatic start so at the click of a button they begin heating up while the driver is still indoors. I absolutely need to get one of those!
However, it’s all the fun activities that really help to get through the long winter months. Schools don’t close here just because of a bit of snow and Canada is famous for its great outdoors all year round. A common pastime so I’ve heard, but not yet tried, is Ice Fishing. Lake Manitoba and other lakes all around Northern Canada freeze to such an extent that trucks can even be driven across them so in the winter time. Those who like fishing find a spot and set up shacks where they can head out with a few beers and good friends, cut a hole in the ice and wait for a bite. For those who prefer something a little more adventurous there are skidoo trails criss-crossing all around the province.
I recently tried a few of the slightly tamer activities on offer. Children in Manitoba grow up with the snow and as such I don’t think I’ve met one that hasn’t made snow angels or been sledging down hills. I had a go at sledging on a flimsy plastic carpet for the first time ever and if it wasn’t for the fact that I was supposed to be setting an example to the kids I would have tried the jumps (honest!). Anyway, whether it’s building igloos – which the children here call forts – making snowmen, carving blocks in the snow, sledging, ice skating (figure skating & ice hockey), or just getting out for a brisk walk there’s one thing for sure: Boots, snow-pants, mitts, scarves, touks (that’s winter hats to us Brits) and a big warm jacket are a must. So instead of worrying about looking silly, I think I’m going to embrace my silly-side and go out to play in the snow!